Monday 29 May 2017

Tips for writing that book this year

Bernice Barrington

So the New Year has been and gone, and while many of your resolutions may have long been broken, you've decided this is the year you're going to write that book. But how do you go about undertaking such a mega- task, especially if you have children, and what is the market like in the face of the recession? Bernice Barrington reports

SOMETIMES it feels like you can't turn in Ireland for gorgeous female authors, who also happen to have a fabulous husband, adorable kids and stunning wardrobes.

Cecelia Ahern, Sinéad Moriarty and Cathy Kelly all instantly spring to mind. And surely it's only human that if you're of a creative bent yourself, you might start fantasising about penning a bestseller, signing for a six-figure sum and retiring to a winter home in Spain with the proceeds.

However, be warned, if you're writing for anything other than the love of writing, you will be disappointed. So says Patricia Deevy, commissioning editor at Penguin Ireland, who has published the aforementioned Sinéad Moriarty as well as the likes of Niamh Greene and Amy Huberman.

"People who write solely for money tend to stop writing very quickly," she says. "There is only one reason you can devote that much time and effort to completing a book and it's because you are completely compelled to do it."

Deevy says that in the current market book sales are down nearly 10pc, so getting a deal is a real struggle for authors.

"You're talking more than €3.5m worth of business gone from the adult fiction market, with women's fiction particularly affected. Women sacrifice themselves.

"In the old days you wouldn't mind throwing a €5.99 paperback into your trolley in the supermarket. Now, that could be the price of a chicken for the family dinner – these are the types of decisions people are making.

"On the other hand, children's literature is holding up. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was one of the biggest sellers of last year."

Deevy believes the market is moving away from "generic chick-lit".

"If you're writing generic women's fiction, it's going to be harder to get published now. I think people have become slightly more ambitious in their reading.

"One of the effects of promotions like the Richard and Judy Book Club is that books previously regarded as literary are now seen as perfectly accessible and people have developed a taste for them. What used to be seen as middle to high-brow is now seen as 'well within my brow'."

However, Deevy also believes that if the next Marian Keyes comes along in the morning she will still get published. "Someone that brilliant will always find a home."

Ciara Doorley, commissioning editor at Hachette, agrees that very strong women's fiction will always do well, and cites someone like Ciara Geraghty as a good example of this.

Geraghty's first book, Saving Grace, was published in 2008, just as Ireland's economy was beginning to implode. But in spite of this she has gained a large and fiercely loyal following, not just in Ireland but also in the UK.

"Ciara is almost beyond genre," she explains. "She's telling her stories from a new and different perspective, and that's what makes her so interesting."

For Doorley "voice" is key. "You want a voice that is distinctive and original," she says, mentioning Maria Duffy of Any Dream Will Do fame – published by Hachette last November – as another good example.

"Maria was spotted by her agent Sheila Crowley over Twitter. And, yes, in her novel there is this voice that is very Dublin, very humorous. And the hook of Twitter itself was a great one."

High concept fiction

This idea of a clever hook brings us neatly onto the current phrase du jour, the ' high concept' novel, a phrase that has been doing the rounds ever since David Nicholls' One Day was published to enormous acclaim in 2009.

"Again, referring to the Richard and Judy Book Club, the books they select always have an amazing concept at their centre. I think that's what people want now: extremely strong, well-written original stories," Deevy explains. "Something meaty."

Doorley agrees that the rise of book clubs has whetted readers' appetites for challenging, complex fiction.

"Room by Emma Donohoe is a great example of this – it's based on a horrible story but it's actually a beautifully written book. I think high concept really means just telling a story in a new or different or interesting way."

She is also very excited about Kathleen Mcmahon's book This is How it Ends, published by Little, Brown, which garnered the author a huge advance at the London Book Fair last year.

"Again it's an example of basically a simple story but reflecting current realities and with a slightly different take on things."

Coping with rejection

So you've put in the effort, written the book. But what happens if it gets rejected? Should you just abandon ship?

"Absolutely not. There can be so many reasons why a publisher decides against taking on a script. Perhaps they already have someone on their list who is very similar; maybe it's just not the right time. There can be all kinds of reasons," explains Doorley.

And if you get a positive rejection (ie the publisher liked certain aspects of your book and goes to the trouble of telling you) don't dismiss this in the disappointment of not getting published. "Keep writing. Maybe this story wasn't right for them but your next one may be."

Deevy advises people to get feedback.

"Join a book club or go to your local library for details of who's writing in your area. Sinéad Moriarty has often spoken about joining a writers' group in London and how it was a turning point for her.

"If you're getting rejected and feeling really bad, take courage and see if you can get a bit of feedback from somebody because that's probably what you need."

Doorley adds that ultimately you have to look at your own motivations.

"If publication is your sole reason for writing then you may end up very disappointed. I think you really need to write because you love it and are passionate about it. And as you write try not to think about some imaginary editor or agent reading it and criticising – try to be free and write for yourself."

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